“What’s in a painting” – or how we see past initial appearances of a character

“The perfection of feature, the brilliancy of colouring were there; but I suppose the painter had quaint medieval monstrosities until his brain grown bewildered, for my lady, in his portrait of her, had something the aspect of a beautiful fiend” (Braddon 107)

This little passage is strikingly intriguing: in the context of the scene, it involves Robert and George discovering a painting done of Lucy Graham, now the new Lady Audley, whose painting is described above by our yet unknown narrator in much contrast to how she is originally described. Early on in the novel, Lucy Graham is portrayed as someone “lovely and innocent”(Braddon 49) and now she is described as resembling a “beautiful fiend” in her painting.

As far as history goes, there has been a pervasive idea that a portrait contains a part of someone’s soul, and thus offers a glimpse into their true nature. Contemporary literature at the time like Robert Browning’s My Last Duchess poem and Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray all played around with the idea of a painting being thematic to express a look into someone’s true character. Similarly, up till now, Lady Audley’s duality has been alluded towards sparingly, but made more explicit with the notion of her being a hidden monster, that a painter had been able to look past her surface and into her inner thoughts, and exposed her for what she is.

The imagery described, references to “quaint medieval monstrosities” gives us a visual idea of what might be running through the painter’s head as he worked on it, and the description of him becoming ‘bewildered’ shows strong language that wants us, the reader, to understand the growing horror of the painter as it dawned on him, that Lady Audley was not who she really was.